Review: Orsay

22 March 2015

I made my way to Jacksonville on the coast of Florida after very good meals the last two nights, at Dovetail in Macon and at Cypress in Tallahassee. This Sunday evening I was hoping for a hat-trick at Orsay, a highly-rated place just west of the water not far from where I was staying. I may have been spoiled after the last two nights!

I limped into the restaurant as the tendonitis in my right foot had not improved much; it was seriously exacerbated sprinting through that crap-hole glorified bus depot called Atlanta Hartsfield Airport a few days ago thanks to incompetence by Delta’s staff there. No fun sprinting from one terminal to another when you are stuck on your first flight because they can’t connect the jetty, and they’re boarding your second flight already in another terminal!

Orsay this Sunday night was buzzy and busy, but they said it was better to serve me from a table than the counter/bar. The layout of the place was a little odd, and I was placed next to a sofa that belonged in a lounge instead of a restaurant. In fact, I can’t quite tell what this place wants to be, a restaurant or a lounge — or both. I learned this to my detriment…

Things began okay, although the place was noisy with folks who have been drinking for a bit apparently. All it takes is 1 loud table of people laughing like it’s the end of the world… But I digress. I ordered my dinner and enjoyed a cocktail as I tried to relax.

The first sign things went bad is when both my starters — one cold, one hot — arrived simultaneously… I obviously told them to put the hot one under a lamp while I ate the cold one… Not very complementary! They didn’t see what was wrong with that!

1-shrimp_cocktail

The local shrimp cocktail was okay, nothing special. After I finished it the other starter arrived…

2-escargots

Yes, escargots. You see how this would not mix at all? And well, they forgot to put it under a heating lamp as it was barely warm and the mushroom sauce was starting to coagulate. And worse, which is not a fault of the FoH cock-up or the lack of heating lamp, the escargots were not seasoned at all. Ugh… I actually abandoned this and told my server to have the kitchen try it to see what went wrong…

They offered to take it off the bill but I ate most of them so that wasn’t cool, so I said don’t worry about it. And, they took that very literally. They didn’t even comp my coffee afterwards…

3-duck_breast

My main course, the duck breast, was actually truly very good. Fantastic sourced duck, cooked very well. Clearly you got an unbalanced kitchen and there’s seriously weak links in the line back there, along with some strength. It’s a shame that I was quite unhappy with the entire experience already, and the lounge-cum-restaurant thing is wearing on me.

I didn’t bother with a dessert and had enough of this place. Too bad, the duck was excellent. But I thought this place is way full of themselves, and the poor performance by both FoH and kitchen will not be worth further comment than this review.

Clearly this is a place I won’t every try again. James Beard, you tricked me again. If a nominated chef’s team can’t execute, I don’t see the point of a nomination… JB nominations are turning as avoidable as Tripadvisor top restaurants…

Orsay
3630 Park Street
Jacksonville, Florida

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Review: Cypress

21 March 2015

I’m not even gonna talk about what happened after that fabulous dinner at Dovetail in Macon. Needless to say it involved a lot of booze and a redneck bar. No issues, just a hangover from hell… Not great with a few hours of driving in front of me…

But I did arrive in Tallahassee in one piece and had a busy afternoon. I was utterly knackered by early evening and noticed the nice weather was starting to turn, so I had headed out for an early dinner. My original destination looked busy and I just felt a strange vibe, so I decided on another place I had been eyeing more and more the past few days, Cypress.

I got to Cypress just as the skies opened up and propped myself to the bar hoping this change was justified. At first it wasn’t, as the service was ridiculously slow — partly because the bartender had to do nearly all the work and the servers were utterly under-utilised. The poor bartender had to do all the drinks, serve me, and all the tables on the bar area. Not a great FoH plan is it?

But got my cocktail and I relaxed and ordered my dinner. The menu looked quite good and I was pretty happy. I chilled and eventually my starter arrived.

1-scallops

These scallops were done very well, having the flavour of the char outside and the sweetness of the shellfish inside. Nice job. Not a fan of the black rice tho, an overused gimmick. However, it took awhile before my wine arrived, which irked me a little.

But nevertheless it was not bad. But as the rush for drinks slowed down, the bartender seemed to have gotten to grips with my service. Then my main arrived.

2-ribeye

The bartender talked me into this ribeye, the secret it being cane-mopped — the idea is that it seals the juices in. And it was a fantastic steak, juicy and cooked just right — a proper red/pink medium-rare. Very tasty. The onion rings on top were a bit soggy, but the meat was excellent.

I chilled out and chatted with the bartender, as now he had time to talk. Also with the manager, and mentioned to him how the bartender really needed help earlier! But it was a good atmosphere and they recognised what happened was a choking point for service. Always good to see they recognise the problem and will address it.

I decided on a dessert as I love goat cheesecake, so went for it.

3-goat_cheese_cake

This was a nice piece, not shirking away at the stronger taste at all. With a taste of honey, very nice finish. I had a nice final drink, a nice pear brandy they just got in, before I took my leave, seeing that the downpour had slowed — and that was a chance to run for my car.

This was a good evening, despite the earlier hiccup in service. It rapidly improved, and the food was excellent. In general, pretty happy with this evening.

Tallahassee may not be seen as a food destination, but like all lesser-visited state capitals, it needs some excellent places for all those politicians and lobbyists to talk shop and to spend all that cash…this is why you have surprisingly good places like Parlor Market in Jackson (Mississppi), One Eleven at the Capital in Little Rock (Arkansas), Yono’s in Albany (New York), and so forth not too far from the state capitols. Despite the early service issues, this place is a winner.

Cypress
329 East Tennessee Street
Tallahassee, Florida

Review: Dovetail

20 March 2015

I found myself in Macon, Georgia…yes, Macon…this Friday the 20th. I had arrived in town unexpectedly yesterday having abandoned an unpleasant Savannah and was en route further south. Had an unplanned, lacklustre dinner at a place that’s “highly rated” last night (which I won’t name) — which always teaches me a lesson of what’s good or not, and to just trust my instincts.

I booked Dovetail in advance on instinct, and I walked into a cool looking eatery that wouldn’t look out of place either in Macon, the East Village, or Nob Hill.

It turns out the quality of the food and service would rival the best places in NYC and SF as well, and the rest of the evening turned into a surprisingly wonderful experience in the centre of Georgia. I took a seat at the bar, which would get quite busy later on.

Bartender Haley took good care of me all night, bringing some excellent cocktails and provided some excellent service despite being busy mixing drinks. I can see this is a well-run FoH, and I relaxed and enjoyed some intriguing cocktails. I was driving so had to limit my intake, sadly…

I had ordered some snacks to go with the cocktails, and I was treated to an excellent opener.

1-chicken_skin

This is a wonderful plate of fried chicken skins. The sauce on the side is fantastic, with a lot of bite. But the skin itself is fantastic, crispy and uncompromising, tasty without being difficult to eat. This certainly beats the soggy, floury, inedible mess I had at “award-winning” Husk in Nashville last summer.

I ended up ordering another snack because I had ordered another cocktail…

2-deviled_eggs

These deviled eggs were excellent, with just the right spice and mayo base. Tasty stuff, much better than anything on a reception tray believe me!

I had switched to a red to go with the recommended main course, pork chop.

3-pork_chop

Wow, this is a fantastic piece of pork, locally sourced. Cooked perfectly medium, it brought out all the flavours. The cut was also fantastic, no compromising but not excessive. One of the best pork chops I’ve ever had, and I’ve had a LOT of them over my 43 years. The side of Brussels sprouts were also excellent.

I was more than happy, but extremely full. So I spent the rest of the early evening testing bartender Haley, and she made me 2 fantastic cocktails to close the night. An excellent way to chill out this Friday night in the heart of Georgia.

The kitchen did a fantastic job this evening, showing that you don’t need to “over-chef” things to make it good. Let the fresh, local ingredients speak for themselves, and use your kitchen magic to bring out the best — not to adulterate. There were so many other dishes I wanted to try (quail risotto especially) — I may need to make a detour down here again…

I always worry when there’s such a great restaurant in a smaller town, because my fear is whether the local economy can support such an endeavour. I hope it does, because Dovetail is a gem in the region. Frankly it’s better than anything I’ve had in Atlanta in a long, long time.

I am also glad to see any restaurant as a major part of any downtown revival. I remember Parlor Market in Jackson, and how the excellent food and drink there is helping to anchor the rebuilding of the long-neglected downtown. I hope Dovetail is here for a long, long time to reap the rewards of their trailblazing.

Worth a detour to Macon for a meal, I say that to my readers — and to myself. I will be back.

Dovetail
543 Cherry Street
Macon, Georgia

The WORST Steakhouse on the Planet: Prime Steak & Wine

27 February 2015

My plans kept changing but basically my evening became open at the last minute. Geez, a Friday and I have a ridiculously early wake-up coming, so I decided to go to do something easy. I trekked across the centre and headed to the popular Ráday utca, where many restaurants are. After negotiating through a maze of increasingly aggressive beggars at Kálvin tér Metro, I made it to The Beer Cellar — to be told it was reserved for the night. Damn it, of course never listed on the website. Ugh…

I trekked back towards the Metro and went straight back, but went a little further. I decided to try a place that was highly recommended, Prime Steak & Wine. I know, why go to a steakhouse when you are in Hungary? Reason is that it also offers, alongside other sourced beefs from around the world, the fabulous local Magyar szürke szarvasmarha (grey cattle).

The restaurant was mostly empty, which is a bad sign for Friday night. And the staff was already shaky, just standing around chatting instead of being attentive. I finally coaxed my server over to place my order. Took while to get my wine as they just refused to fill up my water glass. Had to keep getting their attention. At least then the starter arrived.

beef_broth_marrow

This marrow and beef soup was actually pretty good. I had to ask for a tiny spoon or fork to enjoy the marrow, as they had not even considered it. Another bad FoH sign. It was solid, and the marrow was a nice touch.

I chilled out with more wine but had to keep asking for water when they just refuse to fill my glass — despite me paying for the bottle. Then my steak came…and my heart sank.

filet_mignon

Was that a beef log they dropped on my table that looks already dryer than the Sahara?

Reason #1 why NO ONE eats filet mignon anymore (which is this restaurant’s specialty) is how utterly awful a cut it is. Reason #2 is that it’s so easy to screw up cooking. This was labelled medium-rare? Nope. Maybe partially, but it’s well-done through the top and one side. It’s obvious it was thrown into the oven that was unbalanced and cooked through badly. Right side was well-done and left side was medium. And it was all bad.

veg

Frankly the vegetables were much better. And they still won’t fill my water glass!

I actually then complained and the staffer was giving me attitude and I just said forget it. I abandoned the rest of the steak, asked them to give me the bottle of water and the bill. I actually literally carried the water bottle out of the restaurant with me.

Having graced hundreds of steakhouses around the world, I have to say I have NEVER had such a poor experience anywhere in the world. Crap service that just got worse, plus a truly horrible steak. Pretentious crap that everyone has seen though, which is why it was pretty empty on a Friday night.

As I tweeted that night, what they did to the Szürke marha tonight was a crime. Frankly this “steakhouse” is criminally bad. What a crappy last meal in Budapest…

Prime Steak & Wine
Sas utca 18
Budapest, Magyarország

Review: Gepárd és Űrhajó

27 February 2015

It was a rather busy day already as I ran around in a now-drier Budapest all morning into the afternoon; so it wasn’t until mid-afternoon I had a chance to have lunch. I decided to make a quick detour and drop into another well-regarded eatery, Gepárd és Űrhajó.

I had wanted to try this whimsically-named restaurant several times before, but the timing never worked out. So this time I ended up going at an inopportune time — when it was empty and the staff seemed to be doing other things. Oh well, I ended up ordering a fine set of courses as I was hungry having not eaten all day.

Enjoying a glass of local white before the first item arrived, gulyás made with Hungary’s fabulous Magyar szürke szarvasmarha (Hungarian grey cattle) beef.

Szürke_marha_gulyás

Delicious, I just love this dish. Nice and spicy but not overwhelming. This special breed of cow is just perfect for gulyás.

I was having a bit more wine when my starter arrived…or what I thought was a starter…

pike_perch

The pike-perch from Balaton was listed as a starter but this looked more like a main course! Dear, I have more food coming. But I was hungry and I took this down with gusto. Actually quite an excellent dish, with the fish cooked well. A few rogue bones, but overall a balanced dish as the fish rested on a bed of lentils, peppers and arugula.

Having enjoyed all that, I switched to a red — having to get the waiter’s attention (he’s doing the books, as you would imagine during a down-time, it’s expected). Then came my main course…

Mangalica_chunk

Yes, it’s mangalica “chunks” under the gravy. I gotta say it was utterly overcooked, but the joy of mangalica is that it’s still extremely edible and good. I just wish this was cooked right and not smothered by unnecessary gravy. Not bad, but not a great end.

I had some coffee and headed out, glad to be full from a rather voluminous and rather late lunch. Little did I know I needed it…but that story next time…

Gepárd és Űrhajó
Belgrád Rakpart 18
Budapest, Magyarország

Review: MÁK

26 February 2015

After a long afternoon in rainy Budapest, I was spent. My schedule opened up unexpectedly but I managed to get a booking at the well-regarded MÁK. This bistro made its name when previous chef Kata Tálas (who has worked at London’s excellent Magdalen) won international acclaim for her take on modern Hungarian cuisine; she has since departed for Singapore to continue her culinary experience, and I was hoping MÁK is worthy of continued praise.

After an interesting tasting meny a few days ago in Kyiv at Канапа (Kapana), I decided to go with one of their tasting menus. Should be interesting. I happily went with the wine pairing, as it was all Hungarian wines. I chilled out and enjoyed the atmosphere.

The restaurant was busier in the front in their cafe section, and the restaurant section in the back was filling up much slower. Then the amuse bouche arrived.

AB-mackerel

A small tasting of mackerel in cream. Well, it’s not a great piece of mackerel to be honest. I asked them about sourcing, and unfortunately they tell me most of the stuff they get comes from France and not locally. I find that a bit of a shame, but they said they needed consistent quality, so…

The first wine was presented, a riesling from Badacsony…albeit with a light pour. This accompanied the first dish, the sunchoke consomme.

01-sunchoke_consomme

A simple dish with a big slice of sunchoke in the middle, it was full and flavourful. Something you’d enjoy on a cold wet day like today. I’m usually not a fan of this gas-producing root but it was very nice.

Next up was a nice wine from Somló as I awaited the dish… It took awhile, and the light pour again was a little annoying.

02-beef_tartare

This was the beef tartar. Rather plain to be honest, had no depth, and poorly seasoned. They told me the beef was from France…again, why go abroad? Frankly the only thing nice was the mangalica terrine on the side.

They poured the wine for the third course afterwards, and now this was annoying. Took maybe 20+ minutes to bring out the third course in an otherwise empty restaurant. But they at least caught it and topped up my wine. This I complement the FoH for catching it. Usually ‌in Budapest they let you linger, but kudos to them.

03-paprika_tasting

The third dish, when it came out, was a nice tasting of Hungarian peppers, accompanied by some gnocchi and sunchoke spheres. Nice, with the sweet but tangy pepper. A nice creation. Despite the delay I am starting to relax, as I have a better feeling about this place now.

They poured the wine for the fourth course, another nice tipple from Badacsony, as we move into fish.

04-skrei_cod

Didn’t take quite as long but the skrei cod was looking good. Fish was solid tasting and flavourful, and the vegetables were a nice set; cream was unnecessary though. A good little dish. And I also noticed the sommelier, who had taken over the wine service for my table, has turned light pours into very generous pours. This was noticed and appreciated.

He then poured me a red from Sopron as that tipped me off that we’re headed to meats. In fact it was saddle of venison.

05-venison_saddle

Wow, this was cooked very nice. Almost rare, it retained all the flavours and characters of venison, no cheating here. A very nice treat, for game lovers. You get the full essence of the meat with this light cooking, letting the meat speak for itself. Excellent.

As I was given a palate cleanser they sat a couple right next to me — in a rather empty restaurant. Why? Just then they brought a nice Tokaji with my dessert — poppy seed dumplings.

06-poppy_dumpling

This was actually a fabulous dessert, mixing some wonderful flavours. A deep, complex, challenging dessert, but also really tasty. I usually don’t praise desserts but this was real good.

I was told there was a little more, but I asked to move to the bar — so the romantic couple adjacent can have some privacy. The staff actually thanked me, and bought me a drink on the house. Now this you don’t expect in Budapest, so I was impressed. They acknowledge their errors by making up for it; slow food service they poured more wine (and increasingly more generous pours), poor diner placement they give me a free pálinka. I stayed, enjoyed the little snack they brought.

petit

Mmm, nice. I had a few pálinkas just chatting with them about the restaurant scene in Budapest and it was an interesting evening. I like these people, they are on the right track. They don’t just huff or ignore when something doesn’t go right (like so many other places), they actually work to rectify things. Now this place has a lot of potential. It is certainly a place I would happily come back to again when I get back to Budapest.

Overall I like MÁK. Solid food, some dishes were excellent (though some below par like the tartar). Service was good as it progressed. The sommelier is clearly the boss of the place and he really got them working once he took control of things. Overall, again, I think it’s a good place, and I had a good night. I know I stumbled back to my hotel pretty cheery after this.

MÁK
Vigyázó Ferenc utca 4
Budapest, Magyarország

Review: Rézkakas

26 February 2015

I had a busy afternoon my first day in a rainy Budapest, so I decided to fuel up a bit with some good food. Walking up Sas utca, the location of many good restaurants and bistros, I eventually ended up Rézkakas. I admit it was not my first choice but a few places I know on this street had closed up since my last trip to Budapest.

Rézkakas is a pleasant bistro that has that Budapest charm — you know what I mean if you’ve been here. Service was a pleasant surprise, as it was actually quite good. I ordered my starter and main and chilled out with some excellent local white. I love Hungarian wine so much…

AB-pork_terrine

We first began with an amuse bouche of pork terrine, which was not bad. Surprised I got one for lunch. But a good start. Some good bread too.

01-catfish

My starter was catfish carpaccio on a bed of spinach pillow. Not bad, though probably shouldn’t call this carpaccio per se. But it was rather nice, a salty, ham-ish feel to this beloved local fish. Good start.

02-mangalica

My main was, unsurprisingly, roasted mangalica loin. The meat was cooked very well, retaining the juice of this magnificent beast. The pasta shell was done nicely, and the mixture of various mushrooms was a surprise treat. Nothing as wonderful as mangalica and wild mushrooms!

I finished my wine and had a coffee and thanked the servers for an excellent meal — and solid service. Considering how crap the service just next door at (the now 1-Michelin, utterly shocked…) Borkonya on a previous trip. I was fuelled up for my busy afternoon. Into the rain…

Rézkakas
Sas utca 3
Budapest, Magyarország